Miscellaneous articles and writings related to Mysore nature.
The second and third week of January this year  the south east coast of Tamil Nadu had turn into the centre of hyper curiosity and engrossed with Biologists and naturalists rushing in. Scores of Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) washed ashore and stranded on the shore line between Thiruchendore-Kulashekara pattinam - Manappad beach, which is close to to the Cape of Kanyakumari. Though every effort was made to put back the whales into seawaters, ended with little success.
The dead animals were buried after careful post-mortem and examination to ascertain the cause of this phenomenon, as per the directives of Government of India.
After a span of 2 months, Government of India and Government of Tamil Nadu permitted Regional Museum of Natural History, Siddhartha Nagara, Mysore to collect the skeletal remains of a Pilot Whale for education purpose and exhibit at the museum.
This writer was a member of collection group, had an opportunity to visit and take part in collection of the vestiges. At present the skeletal remains are under process for articulation of the skeleton, which will be put on put on show soon at RMNH, Mysore.
(S.J.Srinivasa, M/EP, Regional Museum of Natural History, Siddhartha Nagara, Mysore-570011)
*Photo credit: Internet and SJS
Parthenium hysterophorus L., a tropical American weed belonging to the family Asteraceae is an invader noxious weed. It was accidentally introduced into India, more than fifty years ago. The seeds of Parthenium entered our country along with wheat grains when wheat was imported as PL-480 food aid to India. It was first noticed near Poona, Maharashtra in 1951, as an escape and was reported as a new record for India in 1956 (Rao, 1956). Over the years it traveled along the railway tracks and soon spread all over the southern part of peninsula, as the climatic conditions here were favorable for its growth. Its presence was first recorded in Mysore, Karnataka on 23.11.1971 and by the end of 1972; it had invaded the Mysore district (Rao, 1981)
Because of its proliferate nature, absence of competitors, untouched by cattle and goats and inherent property of Asteracea family - exuding chemicals from their roots which inhibit the growth of surrounding plants, Parthenium aggressively spread and colonized. Eradication measures like physical removal, spraying chemical herbicides, biological control methods such as growing another weed Cassis sericea and releasing a specific herbivorous insect pest Zygogramma bicolorata turned out to be futile and became a conspicuous and natural element in our flora.
It is observed that butterflies, Mottled Emigrant Catopsilia pyranthe, Small Salmon Arab Colotis calais, Plain Orange Tip Colotis eucharis, Common Leopard Phalanta phalantha, Common Silverline Spindasis vulcanus and African Babul Blue Azanus jesous are feeding on Parthenium flowers.
It seems Parthenium has reached the pinnacle of its invasiveness in Bandipur National Park, Karnataka, where we observed the tamed elephants of the Forest Department, in the summer of 2000, to eat this plant with evident relish. This phenomenon has been observed four times in the last six years. Even wild elephants may eat this plant, though no visual observation is reported.
These observations indicate that an invading alien plant is being gradually naturalized to a new environment in a short span of time.
K.B.Sadananda and A.Shivaprakash
On one mid-day during May 2003, while crossing over Lingambudhi tank bund on a personal work, we sighted White-necked storks, 43 in numbers spread over the marsh and green lawn. Being very regular visitors to this tank, WN Storks numbers surprised us. Thus unusual sighting, compelled us to spend a full day in the tank documenting entire day bird activity. It materialized on 23rd December 2003.
It was 5:30 A.M.; chilly, sky was filled with numerous glittering stars with planet Jupiter in the mid-sky and Saturn in the west sky. Standing below a medium sized Casurina tree, we could here Stone Curlew’s pick-wick in open grass land and alert calls of Red-wattle Lapwing from shore line. From clumps of Pongamia Spotted Owlett was making series harsh chuckles. From water surface very feeble quacks and shrills of Ducks, Coots, Grey Herons and Dabchicks were originating; overhead, on and off kwaak by Night Herons filled the air of chilled weather. A moving car’s headlight on sector shaped bund, from west to east, shown us the spread out ducks activity on water surface in the pitch dark night.
The early sunrays opened up the bounty in the lake –Spot-billed Pelican (5), Darter (2), Painted Stork (3), Grey Heron (18), Ducks (c. 1300), Coots, waders. From the canopies of Acacia and Sesbania trees, emerged roosting Black Drongos and Bee-eaters after nights’ halt. From north-east direction flocks of Cattle egrets, Common and Jungle Mynas flew leisurely over the tank. These birds roosts in Kukkarahalli (aerial distance 4.5 Km) and are found flying over Lingambudhi in the morning and evening regularly throughout the year. Their magnitude multiplies in winter. Quite often, in winter migratory Rosy Pastors & Chestnut-tailed Starlings join them.
In September, the tank was almost empty. Scanty rains there-after brought relief to the tank dwellers; water spread area marginally increased from 600 to 4400 mtr² (full capacity - 1.85*104 mtr²) submerging overgrown Cyperus reeds partly. Thus, tank bed is now accommodating Crakes, Rails, Herons and seldom inviting Marsh Harriers and Greater spotted Eagle. Though late, Coots & Grebes established their nests to proliferate their population.
Cormorants (Little, Great and Shag) arrived in small batches, circling at lower elevation assessed the prey base and landed. But after few minutes Shags (11) left the tank. Great Cormorants (22) also left the tank after half an hour, whereas Little Cormorants (5) and Darters (2) stayed throughout the day. They were often shifting the foraging location within lake. Egret, Pelicans, Waders do have this habit of shifting foraging ground. However Ducks, Coots sticks to a limited range near the place where they rest on mud/sand bar.
Water birds in the tank were identified and counted, 1238 nos. Around 8 am, as usual ducks started arriving in flocks from east direction, their numbers varying from 13 to 480 from Dalavay Lake. Dalavay Lake (aerial distance – 5 Km) is abode to wintering ducks and is situated on Mysore-Ooty road. Space constrain in City forced the Trucks and Lorries to outer-city for parking purpose. Once the heavy vehicles are started to go back to city in the morning, disturbs the ducks population residing closely and they leave the Dalavay tank and arrive in Lingambudhi tank.
Solitary Ruff and few Black-tailed Godwits arrived separately in the afternoon stayed for an hour and left. Little Stints were found flying displaying their distinctive contrast colors. However, we failed to notice their arrival.
A Greater Spotted Eagle (GSE) found thrice flying over the tank. Once, by stretching wings backwards, lowering legs, descended sharply. It was about to reach tank bed, but three Black Kites started attacking GSE. GSE on a defensive mood changed the direction and elevation, left the tank area.Marsh Harriers, 2 female and a male, carried out unsuccessful nineteen sorties over the lake disturbing water birds at different time of the day. They didn’t even succeed once. Almost after every dry run females landed in the Cyperus reeds, hiding and twice landed on dry shore along with male.
Floating vegetation (Duckweed) was plenty and handy, ducks were feeding on it very leisurely. At the most ducks may feed 4-5 hours a day. Ducks prefer morning hours for feeding. Once the stomach is full, they spend their time preening feathers or rest tucking their head back. Yellow and Grey Wagtails (89) were active throughout the day on short grass fields - walking slowly, flying in quick succession in undulating gait.
The mid-day was very hot and dry; hardly there was any bird activity in the tank. Scotching heat was intolerable even below the shadow of a tree. Dried ‘shit’ drove us away from the shade to find a descent place to sit and observe.
Just at the time of Sunset, 18:00 hrs, these boys with camera made such a noise that almost all the ducks took off, formed seven different large flocks, and started circling in opposite directions. Circling activity went on for few minutes. Some 800 ducks landed back, rest moved towards the direction from where they arrived in the morning. It was totally dark; all the evening walkers/visitors have left, we were the only left out. Forest guard reminded us to depart.
To verify what we saw on previous evening still persists, visited the tank well before the sunrise on next day. Found Pelican (4), Painted storks (2), Grey Herons (12) and Ducks (c. 800) were present. It was the same when we last observed it.
Total 44 species of water birds were observed, to mention few: Spot-billed Duck, Pintail, Shoveller, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal and Lesser Whistling, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Little Stints.
Deapesh Mishra and Shivaprakash A
Fig: Great Indian Hornbill Fig: Artists impressions of birds
Ability to identify the birds accurately in the field by their plumage, call, behavior is a pleasure. One need to go out of four walls for birds- thus it becomes a joy, thrill and a refreshing passion. Birding is much more than a recreational and healthy hobby; it is inexpensive, educative, artistic, scientific, and challenging; it also exposes to the field of photography, trekking, travel, and farming.
Most of us know few common birds around us, like Sparrow, Myna, Pigeon, Crow & Peafowl. These birds size, colour, beak, feather are not similar; even their call, behaviour, foraging and resting place is also different. Thoroughly observe the common birds found in your immediate vicinity for their structure, and behaviour. Eye for minute details and make a note in memory or scribble on a field note book. It is better to know Birds’ body parts, such as supercilium, ear covert, malar region, beak, etc for identification purpose. A better field guide will provide basic feature of every bird found in India. Field guides contains birds colour picture with important identity keys; describes range and habitat where they are normally found. To figure out the birds seen in the field, search the field guide for over all character, and habitat. Basics such as Seed eating bird has stout beak; nectar drinking thin, down curved beak will easily takes us to the group of birds to be referred in the field guide. Within few days beginner will be able to differentiate one bird from another by identification factors like how the bird flies, where it is found, what is its shape and size of the beak, tarsus etc., Start with your neighbourhood. You’ll be surprised and escalated by the sheer number and the beauty witnessed!
To know more about birds, it is essential to observe them with a meaningful purpose linked with their body structure and the habitat. It is possible to learn bird watching hobby using field guides without anybody’s help. However, learning process will be faster and better when a new entrant joins an experienced birding group or a seasoned birder at least for few days. After understanding the local species well, birder moves out to other localities in search of new birds. Depending on season, birders may visit habitats like forest, water body, marsh, grassland, and shoreline and so on. Even birders venture into vast stretches of ocean, travelling whole day just to have a glimpse of pelagic birds.
Best time to watch bird is early-morning. After nights roost, birds will emerge looking for energy-giving food. They will be more active and vocal, so easier to spot. Binocular will enhance the beauty of bird watching, since it enlarges the bird’s minute details; observer gets a better view enhancing the identification skills. Birding is also possible without binoculars. Many villagers identify most of the birds found in their locality by call, overall size and behavior. So, slowly and confidently a new entrant moves from backyard birds to rarities at different locations. Scribbled notes on location, date, time, weather condition, birds sighted, birds activity becomes a data and compiled over a period turns out to be a scientific document.
Birds diet varies, whatever the diet of birds all need water. So, easiest way to attract neighborhood birds is with a water supply. Better way to observe your local bird is offer a water supply to drink and bathe. With the arrival of winter, many more birds appear to drink water; they look different than the local ones and are migratory birds.
During learning process birder finds it difficult to identify few groups of birds like waders, warblers and birds of prey. Difficulty multiplies with the arrival of migratory birds in winter. Difference between species is so less, it requires better skill to separate the species and accurately identify them. Here, the experience counts.
Visit a bird sanctuary near your locality where reproductive activity takes place and observe the plumage variation, courtship display, nest building, mating, egg laying, incubation, and so on. Compare with available breeding information, report the differences in birding discussion groups or scientific journal and spread newly acquired breeding knowledge.
Most of the cases, birds congregate to take rest in the late evenings and disperse in the early morning. Varieties of birds are found in roosting places like island, woodland, unused building, and open grassland. Staying in group provides protection to the birds. Such roosting birds’ congregation can be seen in Kukkarahalli, Lingambudhi and Karanji tanks within Mysore city. Few solitary birds rest in a bush, trees near human settlements.
Previously, elite class alone was practicing bird watching. After independence, people from all strata of society made it. Only resource book available for Indian birds was Salim Ali’s field guide- ‘Book of Indian Birds’ , published in 1941, comprising 242 common birds out of 1200 species then known. Later it was revised to 538 species; two valuable Field-guides by Grimmett & Krys containing all Indian sub-continent birds appeared in 2000 are very popular. After 2005 re-revised and regional field guides, easily available binocular & spotting scope and the advent of digital era with affordable camera, audio devices, mobile & internet communication multiplied the bird watchers strength by many fold.
India being a tropical country with its diverse weather and vegetation features, there is no scarcity for birds. Around 1300 species of birds are found in India, almost 10% of world account -10,241. Karnataka state is harboring around 550 bird species. Mysore region comprising Mandya, Chamarajanagar & Mysore district amounts to 344 species, comprising of 189 Residents, 106 winter visitors, 16 Passage migrants, and 34 Vagrants. Such accurate bird information is due to active bird-watchers presence since 1980.
Increasing number of people volunteering to take part in bird census, bird monitoring and bird photography events indicates the growing popularity. So, a hobby resulted in better understanding of our birds and their diversity. The baseline data provided by these amateur birders helps ecologist and conservationist. The outcome proliferates into new bird field guides, helps in protection and conservation of important habitats. The branch of Ornithology is most studied and well understood out of all Life science subjects just because of amateur birders. Global level migratory birds, their flyway are well understood because of worldwide involvement of amateur birdwatchers.
Birding is a popular pastime worldwide and people from all walks of life and age participate in it. Earlier the better; introducing the children to the hobby at middle school level would be more appropriate and rewarding.
What makes birding so popular? Birds are omnipresent, they are found in urban & rural area, lakes & tanks, Desert, forests, snow capped mountains & even sky. So, wherever you are you can watch birds all the 24 hours. They are clearly visible with naked eye and are also audible. Bird watching activity induces many questions, such as - sipping nectar, in which flower; hunted an insect – what insect; eating a fruit – which fruit; building a nest – on which tree, such questions and learning process takes us in to the more deeper nature world. And moreover, bird’s common name is easy to remember and recall. It is not so in mammal, butterfly and floral watching. In the case of Mammal observation we need to visit wildlife sanctuaries that may be far off; we may visit once but not repetitively. In Butterfly watching, diversity fluctuation is high and seasonal, requires to visit the location where good vegetation persist; in addition, its small size prevents common men from choosing it as a hobby. Difficult to remember botanical names and absence of common names for most of the species discourages common man taking Flora or Flower watch as a hobby.
There is a huge volume of printed and digital information on birds. This may give feeling that there is hardly anything to learn about birds, but this is not really so. Much information like -behavioral difference, difference in seasonal status, presence of a species in a particular location is not found in many bird books.
Many birdwatchers know their local birds, distribution pattern, seasonal variation and local movements that are not found in any of the bird books. There exists a lot of information spread among the birdwatchers. Such information never had a chance to come into the bird books. All these years we were not having a methodology or a system to gather bits of information. But, the present digital age has given way for collaborative study known as ‘crowd sourcing’ from entire world and publishing the result instantly, in various understandable formats online.
Now, in India we have many well illustrated region-wise field guides. But, information generated from the bird watching hobby is not corresponding with birders growth. Moreover, birders distribution is also not uniform. Most of the birders are from the larger cities. So, it is time to rope in enthusiastic minds from rural and suburb regions into bird watching hobby.
There are many local birding groups in India. To name a few – Bengaluru birds, Mysuru nature, Kolkata birds, birds of Mumbai, Delhi birds, Coastal Karnataka Birders network, North-Karnataka Birders network. Obviously, these local birding groups are highly informative and have potential to gather long term information. Though the information collected is small, but the sum total would be significant.
In some cases, we know more about many rare bird species than most of the common species just because funding agencies support only rare species. The fast evolving Internet communication has set right the anomaly since amateur birders contribution is many fold higher than the funded studies and they report all the bird species that come across their way.
Do you know Bird watching hobby harms birds? Disturbance to birds and their habitat, decline in breeding pair, affecting local culture are the few negative impacts, understood to have generated with the increase in numbers of birdwatchers and not following the birders ethics. We must keep in mind that birds are not here for our enjoyment. Since we love them to see, shall help them to survive by following few code of conduct that is in practice since long. They are -maintain a safe distance from birds and nests, don’t alter or clear the vegetation around nest for better view or photography, do not harass birds for photo, strictly no breeding photos unless required for scientific study, not to playback the birds call to attract birds using audio devices, do not wear shining or fast color dresses, do not make noise, and do not trespass private property or protected forests.
To conclude, let’s see what Salim Ali’s said about bird watching; -‘There is a belief that one can’t make a living from bird watching, perhaps to some extent it is true. On the contrary, humans can’t live on bread alone. There are many people just idling without such hobbies often uttering the word ‘boring’ during their young age till retirement and death. Birds provide a beauty and fulfillment that is vital to our quality life.’
Salim Ali’s name is synonymous with Indian birds. Being a self- made bird ecologist, he conducted numerous expeditions in entire Indian subcontinent spanning over six decades that made him an authoritative guide to 1300 species. He lived a fruitful life of 91 years from 1896 to 1987. His deep knowledge and wide range of nature concern is unparalleled. Salim Ali’s significant contributions to Karnataka’s avian fauna are –
Salim Ali had intended to have bird collecting camp at Gangawati (Raichur Dist) during Hyderabad State Ornithological survey in 1931. Since requisite finance was not sanctioned by Nizam government, he was compelled to curtail the survey. Thus Nizam ruled Bidar, Gulbarga & Raichur region bird knowledge remained unobserved. These districts are now part of Karnataka.
Fig: Mysore State Bird survey team stayed here in Devarayanadurga, Tumkur
Fig: Salim Ali in action even at the older age
Fig: Salim Ali was honoured with Padma Vibhushana by Dr Fakrudhin Ali Ahmed
Photos of Salim Ali ( Courtesy: Nehru Memorial Museum and Libray & Oxford University Press, New Delhi)
Fig: Mysore map with surveyed location
Bird surveys of the Madras Presidency, Hyderabad, Travancore and Cochin States by Salim Ali showed some interesting divergences between certain forms living in the eastern and western parts of the Indian Peninsula. So systematic work was envisaged to investigate the line of separation obviously lay somewhere in the intervening country of Mysore. Mysore durbar provided permission and logistic assistance; and American Museum of Natural History, New York facilitated the survey by financing. One will be overwhelmed to know that despite losing his better-half, just four months before Mysore Bird survey, Salim Ali conducted the survey with equal enthusiasm. Tehmina, Salim Ali’s wife used to be a constant companion, accompanying him in most of the expeditions expired in July 1939 due to post-operative complications.
Salim Ali toured erstwhile Mysore state during 6th November 1939 and 25th February 1940 spread over four months. Extensive bird survey was held at 63 locations like Agumbe, BR hills, kemmanugundi. He toured evergreen, moist, deciduous, thorn-scrub, farm fields, wetland, hills, and plains in search of birds. Finally, he established the presence of 346 bird species. Final report comprises the findings of game hunters and naturalists residing in this part of the country, such as Morris, Phythium, Betts, Davison & Taylors’. With survey result, he convinced and influenced Mysore rulers to establish Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in 1940 which is now one among 465 Important Bird Area, a priority conservation site in India.
Fig: Famous words of Salim Ali displayed in Ranganathittu
With this study, in addition to consolidating the bird species recorded in the entire region, Salim Ali concluded the habitat types for resident bird species; proved range extension of Rufous-bellied Shortwing from Nilgiris to Bababudan Hills; presence of rare resident species Hair-crested Drongo in Tumkur; recorded seasonal local movements of Baya Weaver Bird; Mysore was added to the ascertained range of Grey-breasted Prinia; for the first time recorded three varieties of migrant Leaf Warbler; documented immature male Rose-ringed Parakeets participation in reproduction, and importantly mating of Alpine Swifts in mid-air.
Currently, India has large number of competent Bird watchers wholly due to Salim Ali’s pictorial field guide – The common Birds of India. This was first published in 1941 in a simple non-technical language for a layman, sold at a cheaper rate. Field guide was compiled during his un-employment days with a wife to support while residing in Dehradun during 1935.
Competent amateur bird watchers and photographers collated data from entire Karnataka has now touched 550 bird species. Salim Ali’s 346 bird species now stands 550, is attributed to increase in two fold geographical areas after states reorganization and studies over a long period covering all the seasons yielding complete information, than the one short seasonal survey conducted by Salim Ali. Present record shows additional 100 species from earlier surveyed eight districts of erstwhile Mysore State, 50 pelagic & coastal specialists from coastal areas and rest from northern Karnataka.
Forest stretches that were contiguous and healthy have dwindled, denuded and restraining resident birds within the reduced patchy habitat. Some of the affected birds are - Blue-bearded Bee-eater , Spotted Babbler , Red Spurfowl , Painted Spurfowl. Birds present in reduced habitat are now foraging in the degraded forests or converted agriculture fields. Anthropogenic pressure made vast grasslands to fade away. Affected birds are -Painted Sandgrouse & Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse , Great Indian Bustard , and Lesser Floricon . Excluding Floricon, these birds are still present, in very minute numbers in different part of Karnataka. Some of the birds like Swinhoe's Snipe, Great Bittern, Woodcock, White-eyed Pochard recorded during his time are not found now. Surprisingly four time visitor Tufted Pochard has not been seen.
Congregation of Demoiselle Cranes in 1000s at Kapila river near Nanjanagudu, Yelandur Tanks, and at confluence of River Kapila, Cauvery at T.Narasipura was a common feature during winter in those days; and were flying over Mysuru city regularly. In recent years few individual Demoiselle Cranes were recorded at Maddur kere near Yelandur and KRS backwaters, and infrequently around Hidkal dam near Belgaum. Sighting record of Grass-hopper Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Large Whistling-Duck and Gadwall is presently same as in 1940s, just once.
In order to save Great Indian Bustard, a rare bird from extinction it was suggested vehemently for complete protection both from professional snares and sportsmen. Known population of Bustards from Ranibennur has disappeared in the last decade and few isolated individuals have been recorded in Koppal district, three years back by North Karnataka Birders Network.
Presence of common winter migrants -Glossy Ibis & Whiskered Terns seems to be recent trend, as these were not recorded during Salim Ali’s survey. Salim Ali’s observations like White Ibises are less common than Black Ibises is now reversed; it is still true that most of the time winter migrants- Garganeys are always out-numbered Northern Pintail and Cotton Teals ; and un-commonly found White-necked Storks breeding locations are now identified from Nanjanagudu & Jog Falls environ.
The last two decades waterfowl census covering Mysore, Mandya and Chamarajanagar districts have clearly shown the decline in the breeding of local waterbirds. And also decline in quantum of visiting migratory birds in winter. Attribution for breeding decline is extensive fishing throughout the year causing disturbance for foraging, roosting and breeding. The disturbance deprives their most palatable food, and also decrease or even retards reproductive capabilities of these birds. Moreover secluded nesting and roosting sites are exposed to the ire of fisherman because some species consumes their valuable catch, fishes.
Few reasons for decline of winter visitors are -Non-availability of favored depths in the lake, change in the habitat condition- water quality affecting the primary producers and consumers and intern feed to the birds. Though food is available in the lake, accessibility is restricted by the increased human activity like cultivation in shore, tank bed, fishing, water sports, poaching. Eutrophication due to fertilizer run-off, sewage, industries polluted water, excessive overgrowth of weeds causing food imbalance. In addition to Encroachment & Siltation, converting lakes for development activities like solid waste disposal, bus stand, offices, and public amenities resulted in reduced lakes available to the birds.
After a gap of Thirty-four years, Salim Ali visited Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary on 20th June 1974. Visitors logbook here has Salim Ali’s handwritten view, ‘Having had a hand in the initial establishment of Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in 1940, while on an Ornithological Survey of the then Mysore State, I have been particularly happy to note the improvements that have taken place here during intervening year. On the present visit I was hoping to see the heronry in full occupation but owing to the lateness of the monsoon only a few Open-bill Stork and some Egrets have arrived as yet, and nesting has not commenced. I had the privilege of discussing various suggestions on improvement of facilities for the birds as well as visitors with the forest officials concerned, and I look forward to visiting the place again before long to see them implemented’.
In an interview with Delhi Akashavani on 27th April 1975, Salim Ali clearly stated his role in Indian ornithology, ‘I have always been an ecologist rather than a classifier of birds. For instance I have always been much keener on the living birds than on the dead, so that all the ecological studies of these birds that have been described in our handbook have not been found in earlier books, when most of the people were taxonomists’.
Salim Ali, an enthusiast bird specialist in individual capacity surveyed entire Mysore state in 1939, exactly 75 years back at a time when the word ‘infrastructure’ was almost unheard and established a baseline data. The birders of Karnataka shall remember him for two reasons especially in November: First, historic Mysore bird survey that was started on 6th November and the second, he was born on 12th November.
Having experienced Salim Ali’s contribution, we should accept honestly that somehow we have failed to follow his footsteps, in preserving the bird habitat and monitoring the bird diversity on regular basis with available modern facility and infrastructure.
Fig: Handwritten expression of Salim Ali recorded in Visitors log of Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Mandya Dt
Few years ago, we had been to Aralam wildlife sanctuary, Kerala. It is a moist deciduous, semi evergreen/ evergreen forest. Our attention was caught by the appearance of an endemic Butterfly – Southern Birdwing Troides minos which is known to be the largest butterfly of western ghats with a wing span of nearly 190 mm. It is a beautiful insect, black and yellow in colour. Its caterpillar host plant is Thottea siliqousa, an endemic climber of Arstolochiaceae in addition to commoners Aristolochia indica, and Aristolochia tagala . The butterfly is always in search of these particular plant on the leaves of which the adult lays the eggs. The caterpillar on hatching from the eggs eagerly munches the leaves and after a few days becomes pupa.
Fig: Southern bird-wing
Fig: Southern Birdwing caterpillar (Troides minos) on Aristolochia tagala Fig: Thottea siliquosa
The butterfly usually flies at a great height of nearly 90-100 ft above apparently detect the climber even from such a great height. We started guessing how the butterfly could sense the presence of this particular climber. It is possible that the plant was releasing the particular chemical into the air in small quantities, perhaps few molecules at a time. The butterfly after sensing the plant from such a height slowly starts descending and as it came closer to the plant, it is possible that concentration of molecules detected will be high. The butterfly was evidently joyful that the particular plant was the desired one. The butterfly did not stop at that it came closer and closer and almost touched the plant and evidently confirmed the identity of the plant. Just as we human beings sense the presence of perfume plants like jasmine or champaka confirming its identity. It is a classical living instance of nano technology in practice. Once the butterfly is sure of the climber’s identity, it descended further and started laying eggs. This whole instance simply amazed us. The butterfly apparently is an example of expert taxonomist!
All the while Ms. Vijayalaxmi was happily recording the whole sequence photographically. After finishing its task the butterfly flew away perhaps looking out for another Thottea plant ahead. The whole instance indicates the amazing ways of nature. Nature is always so. It never fails to amaze us, if we observe it closer and deeper. Such instances could happen in your own garden. Amazing are the ways of Mother Nature! Do observe and document it.
Author: KB Sadananda
Photo courtesy: M Sahana & Rubin Nair
About two years ago (2012), I visited Bandipur National Park and spent a couple of days there. At that time almost all the Bamboos (Bambusa arundianceae) were in full bloom and as a result of gregarious and profuse flowering most of the Bamboo clumps were drying after shedding the grams. This phenomenon is common and well documented. The grains had fallen to the found in millions. We were watching the forest floor and we could a see a particular species of ants marching in a straight line from the bamboo clumps to their nest. Almost all the ants were carrying the grains one grain per ant to their nest. The grains were intact inside each grain, these were hard and white seed. Bamboo grains were being transported to the ant nest where they would be stored for a few days. The soil of the ant nest being fertile would naturally be a safe and secure store room for the grains.
After being stored there, for a few days, if it rains and if other conditions such as aeration, temperature are favourable, these grains would germinate and grow into new bamboo seedlings and soon there would be a fresh clump of bamboos. This could be the beginning of a new generation of Bamboos.
This is how new bamboo clumps would be formed. This is one example of how forest plants are dispersed. The phenomenon of seed dispersal is carried out by ants in this case, an example of Zoochory (=Entomochory) i.e., dispersal of fruits and seeds with the help of animals and ants to be the specific.
Author: KB Sadananda
In short, known as Mysore Zoo, is one of the oldest Zoo’s in the world (established -1892). Located in the middle of Mysore City, spreads over 157 acres accommodating wide variety of 160+ fauna. Vegetation selected and cultivated here has reasons: as part of animal activity, shadow to the animals and visitors, in addition to landscaping. The tree species have been documented for displaying on them for the benefit of visitors. The list goes;
Author: KB Sadananda
The families Loranthaceae and viscaceae represent a specialized assemblage of parasiting angiosperms known popularly as Mistletoes or Witches brooms. These groups of plants include genera Dendrophthoe, Macrosolen, Scurrula in the first family and Viscum, Taxillus in the second respectively. These have taken to a highly specialized mode of life not seen in other parasitic flowering plants. These plants parasites certain other Angiosperms as partial stem parasites. Pic: Scurrula parasitica
These are obligate parasites and in order to lead their normal life they should always have close association with their host plants. They start their life as tiny seedlings and once they are in contact with their hos the seedlings develop a special type of root which is actually their primary root. This root very soon grows into a sucking root called haustoria (parasitic roots) which enters the stem of the host plant and establishes contact with the Xylem and Phloem of the host vascular tissue and starts drawing water and nutrient minerals which will be flowing in the host tissue. The parasite thus draws the valuable water and minerals from the host grows luxuriously and many times it mimics the host in ins growth and habit so well that it will be difficult tell them apart [Examples: Dendrophthoe falcate on Sapota, Dendrophthoe trigona on Banyan tree].
The parasites produce the usual flowers normal to them. The flowers are pentamerous (having 5 sepals and 5 petals and the usual stamens and ovary). The petals are all united and have a tubular shape. They will normally be unopened first. It was formerly thought that certain nectar loving birds help in the pollination of the flowers by carrying their pollen to flowers of other plants. However it is now known that the birds do not directly participate in effecting pollination but aid indirectly. These birds which love to gather nectar from the flowers actually puncture the base of the flower where in nectar would have accumulated around the base of the ovary. The birds having a long and sharp beak (e.g., Sunbirds) very dextrously puncture and make a hole at this place and draw the nectar). This act of puncturing actually makes the flower petals open with a force and this force is so violent that the pollen powder of the flower is ejected and falls of the receptive stigma of the ovary of the same flower. Thus the flowers are self pollinated and once the stigma is dusted with the pollen of the same flower. It will not be receptive to any pollen from other flowers as earlier thought. The pollination naturally leads fertilization and so. The ovules now start to develop into seeds. The ovary becomes fruit and gradually ripens into mature fruit whose outer wall becomes the fruit wall and when fully ripe, there will be a single hard seed surrounded by juicy pulp just inside the wall.
Different types of birds such a Red-whiskered Bulbul, Barbets and Flowerpeckers instinctively known that the fruits containing the juicy pulp are tasty and so love to eat the fruits. These birds regularly visit the plants and pick the fruits and eagerly gulp the entire fruits. However the pulp of fruits is very sticky and when the birds bite the fruit the sticky fruit with it seed become attached the beak and is so firmly stuck to the mouth of the bird that it does not fall off easily.
The birds with such seeds fly to other locations where the same parasites are abundant. The birds carrying these seeds feel irritated and try to get rid of the seeds by rubbing their beaks against the rough bark of a new host plant, and so these seeds get transferred to fresh host plants and once the seeds come in contact the bark of host plant start germinating into new parasite seedlings and the seeds soon send their primary roost in the form of haustoria into the host tissue and establishes contact. So in this way new host plants become infected with the parasite.This is the method (Bird aided) of how the parasiting plants are dispersed.
Author: KB Sadananda
During 1976, sprawling campus of Mysore University campus situated at the outskirts of Mysore city was mosaic of grass land, water-body and woodland. We used to observe varieties of birds, butterflies and vegetation within the campus itself. In the month of May 1976, the grasslands spread around open-auditorium were accommodating many breeding Lapwings (Yellow & Red-wattled). Now this area is a wood-land surrounded on all sides by buildings with hardly any Lapwings. Notes recorded during that period are re-produced here to show how change in habitat affects the dependent species diversity
Pic: Yellow-wattled Lapwing (PC: MK Vishwanath)
Pic: Notes on Lapwings 1976
Author: KB Sadananda